A robust digital lifeline for people in crisis

09 September 2022

Samaritans is one of the UK’s leading charities, providing 24-hour emotional support for people who are distressed or struggling to cope. Suicide prevention is a priority. Samaritans volunteers offer a sympathetic, non-judgemental ear via phone, email and in person at 201 branches around the UK and the Republic of Ireland and they work with prisons, the military, schools and some large workplaces. There is also Samaritans Self-Help, an app to help people manage their emotional state and find strategies to improve their mental wellbeing. Samaritans volunteers are always available “for anyone who needs someone”.

Until recently the organisation’s core digital infrastructure was in the Surrey HQ and managed day to day by the in-house IT team.

Samaritans scoped the project with an existing supplier but it was a relatively small business with limited experience of public cloud and insufficient understanding of non-profits, so the charity decided to look around.

Jisc cloud services is an AWS Consulting Partner with a dedicated AWS delivery team. The team’s specialist expertise and Samaritans’ commitment to the project enabled the migration to happen in just six weeks, helped by the fact that Samaritans trusted Jisc to engage directly with its suppliers.

A key deliverable was to keep downtime to a minimum to avoid disrupting contact with vulnerable members of the public.

Phase two of the programme, in the first half of 2021, was to re-architect the charity’s systems to take full advantage of a range of benefits offered by AWS, including scalability, resilience and better security.

A regular, weekly call formed the cornerstone of this four-month programme, providing an opportunity to review the past week’s work and plan the next. Any necessary supplier meetings were set up in these calls, sometimes with participation from Samaritans but often without.

In between, Samaritans’ project managers had near real-time updates and they could always chat with Jisc about progress via a ticketing system. This approach ensured a continuous flow of information and speedy progress. Even Covid-19 didn’t slow things down.

Jisc’s cloud team also supported Samaritans to migrate SharePoint into cloud, giving them security benefits and the freedom to scale up or down so they only pay for the storage they need.

At the time of writing the project was nearing completion. The organisation expects it will help it give service users a more responsive, resilient service with less unscheduled downtime. And staff were already enjoying more flexible working. The charity’s 250 employees can now work from home and at times that suit their own lives and the needs of the business.